October 6, 2006
Marijuana and Alzheimer’s
The FDA would like you to forget this story:
New research shows that the active ingredient in marijuana may prevent the progression of the disease by preserving levels of an important neuro-
transmitter that allows the brain to function.
Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in Cali-
fornia found that marijuana’s active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, can prevent the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from breaking down more effectively than commercially marketed drugs.
THC is also more effective at blocking clumps of protein that can inhibit memory and cognition in Alzheimer’s patients, the researchers reported in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics.
The researchers said their discovery could lead to more effective drug treatment for Alzheimer’s, the leading cause of dementia among the elderly.
Unfortunately it won’t treat the collective dementia at the FDA, which has done all it can to impede research on medical marijuana—and which in April stated that “no sound scientific studies” supported the medical use of marijuana. This contradicted an authoritative 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine—which found that marijuana was “moderately well suited” for treating some medical conditions—and prompted ridicule from (among others) The Economist:
[T]he FDA statement is odd [in] that it seems to lack common sense. Cannabis has been used as a medicinal plant for millennia. In fact, the American government actually supplied cannabis as a medicine for some time, before the scheme was shut down in the early 1990s. Today, cannabis is used all over the world, despite its illegality, to relieve pain and anxiety, to aid sleep, and to prevent seizures and muscle spasms. For example, two of its long-advocated benefits are that it suppresses vomiting and enhances appetite—qualities that AIDS patients and those on anti-cancer chemotherapy find useful. So useful, in fact, that the FDA has licensed a drug called Marinol, a synthetic version of one of the active ingredients of marijuana—delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
The Economist also noted that more scientific research would of course reduce the need for herbal remedies:
Once available, a well-formulated and scientifically tested drug should knock a herbal medicine into a cocked hat. No one would argue for chewing willow bark when aspirin is available. But, in the meantime, there is unmet medical need that, as the IOM report pointed out, could easily and cheaply be met—if the American government cared more about suffering and less about posturing.
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